Friday, June 15, 2012

Young Adults: More Will Never Darken a Church Door Again.


Questions 1: How many are leaving?
                      
When one looks across most churches today when attending a service what does one see?  More grey.  Paul Tan writes that, “…the average age of people in the United States is 25. But the average age of church members is 55—thirty years older than the national average. “[1] 
It seems that more young adults exit the pews and will not return anytime soon.  Some bloated figures of 70 to 80 percent of young adults are leaving being involved in church is probably an overstatement[2], but there is sober data that indicates there is a sizeable population exiting.  David Kinnaman, with the Barna Research Group, writes in his well researched book, You Lost Me:

There is a 43 percent drop-off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement. These numbers represent about eight million twenty something’s who were active churchgoers as teenagers but who will no longer be particularly engaged in a church by their thirtieth birthday. [3]

Pastor Mark Sumpter concurs with Kinnaman that there is a lack of young adults in attendance in God’s house writing,” …we have seen a growing absence of young adults in the local church when they arrive at their early and mid-twenties. We lose our youth in their young adult years…”[4]

Question Two: Why Are
Young Adults Exiting The Church?
My 9 year old son the other day said, “Daddy, I don’t understand what they are saying in Church.” This brought back memories when I attended service at his age.  Despite my best efforts, I did not understand most of the stuff that was being presented from the Text.  My Dad and Mom, as my wife and I do with our children, answered their children’s questions the best they could.[5]  Unfortunately, it seems more young adults do not possess environments to express questions and concerns about the unknowns to them about the Christian worldview to other Christians who probably have the answers.[6] With this in mind, lets look at some reasons why more 18-30 year old's are seldom engaged with their local community of believers
Reason 1:  Church is boring
Nearly half of young adults polled by Kinnaman and Lyon’s research that do attend church say, “Christianity is confusing.” [7] Moreover, a quarter of them say Christianity is “…dull, flat, and lifeless”[8] as illustrated below. (To be fair some data shows school is not interesting to young adults [high school age] as well.[9] )   


Reason 2: Sunday school and preaching is not enough to teach the essentials of Christianity

What would Jesus do? Apparently, to some, not rise on the third day.  Researcher Kinnaman also concludes that young adults either Protestant or Catholic, “…have generally favorable views of Jesus, they also harbor significant doubts about the central figure of Christianity. Young adults are more likely than any other age group…to doubt the miracles Jesus performed, and to express skepticism about his resurrection.”[10]  This is alarming.
Skepticism about Jesus is not even the beginning for young Christians. A Georgetown University study found what college aged students believe in various categories.  The study found that around 65% Christian and Non-Christian believe Christianity teaches basically the “same idea” as other religions.[11] This is about the same figure that poll researches Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes found in their research of 20-29 year olds (general population).[12] They write, “…58 percent believe the biblical God is no different from gods or spiritual beings worshipped by other world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.”[13]

            It is hard to say if these young adults are saved or not just based on their knowledge of Christianity compared to other religions.  It does show that they are ignorant, have a very surface level understanding, or reject most of the essential orthodox Christian beliefs.  Moreover, research shows that young adults are not in line with their churches beliefs. Researchers Rainer and Rainer write:
Only 53 percent of all young adult churchgoers state that they are in line with the beliefs of their church. The dropout crisis isn’t found in the style, venue, programs, or location of the church. This crisis is much deeper; it runs to the core of the doctrinal truths of the church.[14]

Why there is a deep skepticism among younger believers about mere Christian truths that different denominations teach may be that they have not acquired critical thinking skills. Christians are not viewed for being critical thinkers. Researchers Kinnaman and Lyons write, “The vast majority of outsiders reject the idea that Christianity ‘makes sense’ or is ‘relevant to their life.’ So part of the sheltered perception is that Christians are not thinkers.”[15]
Though Christians may not seem to be critical thinkers, young adults in general are not as well equipped intellectually as they once were here in the United States.[16] 49.1% of young adults (18-30) are likely to have ”consulted a horoscope to get an idea about the course of your life” compared to 30% of moderately older adults(31-44)[17] Moreover, 73% of college seniors believe right and wrong is personal preference/culturally determined[18] and 83% of college students said cheating is common.[19] No wonder, in a PEW research study of evangelical leaders from around the world, “…view secularism, consumerism and popular culture as the greatest threats they face today.[20]


Reason 3: College has a profound impact on belief
If Christians do not obtain critical thinking skills what are the ramifications? It seems they fall prey to professors who are hostile towards core Evangelical beliefs.  Many professors (48.3%) think the Bible is full of history but also fables, legends, and moral precepts. [21] However, a sizeable minority (39.5%) believe the Bible is “the inspired word of God.”[22]  Though, this minority is overshadowed by the majority of professors that has a very negative outlook on Evangelicals in general.   Jewish researchers Gary A. Tobin & Aryeh K. Weinberg conducted a poll study of college faculty feelings towards different religious group. They found that out of the faculty polled from various types of colleges:

“…only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/ favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest ranking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings towards Evangelical Christians …Faculty feelings about Evangelicals are significantly cooler than any other religious group, leading Mormons as the least liked religious group by 20%. These negative feelings are noted across academic disciplines and demographic factors.[23]” (My emphasis)

Do these attitudes have any affect? These attitudes seem to have some sort of impact along with secular (and sometimes certain seminaries)[24] higher education.  One study showed that 11 percent of young adults entering college claim to be unaffiliated with any religion.  When they left college that number increases about 14% to nearly 25% (24.7) claiming to be unaffiliated with any religion.  Christians lost more than other religion.[25]  Other research shows that if a young adult has attended some college or got a degree 63 percent of them believe in the resurrection compared to 92 percent who stopped at high school. [26] That is just about a 30% drop. [27] To be fair, college still has great advantages overall,[28] but the data does show that belief in essential Christian truths is greatly affected at the higher academia level. So much, church becomes a side note and more take the exit ramp to what seems to be greener pastures.

So why are young adults leaving?  It seems from what we have just covered we can safely conclude that 1) some churches are not engaging (boring). 2) More young adults (Christian and Non-Christian) highly doubt Jesus’ miracles and physical resurrection. 3) Most college (Christian and Non-Christian) students believe Christianity is essentially the same as other religions. 4) Young adult Christians lack critical thinking skills.  5) College professors have an unfavorable view toward Christian beliefs and individuals affecting many.   

What can the Church do?

                I will outline this on a future post.  In other words, “To Be Continued.”  Consider the reasons


Endnotes:


[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996).
[2]The 70-80% figures are probably false partly due to the fact that those who do attend church when they are younger are more likely to continue to attend as an adult.  Barna Research Group found that, “…When it cmes to church engagement, those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and to have an active faith as adults. For instance, among those who frequently attended such programs as a child, 50% said they attended a worship service in the last week, which is slightly higher than the national average and well ahead of those who rarely or never attended children’s programs. Among those who frequently attended religious programs as teenagers, 58% said they had attended a worship service in the last week. In comparison, less frequent participation as a teenager correlated with less frequent adult participation.” http://www.barna.org/family-kids-articles/321-new-research-explores-the-long-term-effect-of-spiritual-activity-among-children-and-teens; With all due respect to my brothers and sisters in Christ, some ministries are not citing their sources specifically like they should who are promoting youth apologetic camps.  Rather, they cite a general site to find the research for yourself.  This is like citing the homepage of the white house website to find out what the president believes on education when there is a specific link for this. Respectfully, one in particular is Faith Ascent Ministries which cites Barna, Lifeway, Southern Baptist, and Assemblies of God research divisions to get their number of 61-88% of youth leave the Christian faith when they become adults without citing the particular study each of these respected research groups did.  Granted websites change addresses of where some particular study can be located so then you have a dead end link.  However, what can be cited are author, title, and date of the particular study. The website is here: http://www.faithascentministries.com/about/the-problem
[3] Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 250-252 or page 22). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.
[4]  Edited by Benjamin K. Wikner, To You & Your Children : Examining the Biblical Doctrine of Covenant Succession ;(Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2005), 251-52; G. Mark Sumpter chapter on “The Church’s Ministry of Nurture to Children, Youth, and Their Families.”
[5] Despite my son and I’s inability to understand what was being presented at the age of 9 in service does not mean that those presenting the information were not doing their best.  I do believe that most preachers(including where my wife and I are members) strive to present a message that a majority of the audience will soak in about the truths they are preaching about that particular week from the Bible.  It is not my place to judge how homilies are to go.  However, it is my place to look at the data and shine the light that homilies, VBS, etc are needed, but that this is not enough.  Apologetics is needed (1 Peter 3:15) to varying degrees to counter what is being presented in this paper.
[6]Parents are somewhat to blame as Hemphill and Ross write, “A fair percentage of those reared in spiritually shallow homes walk away from the faith altogether as young adults. Watching parents who attend church but who do not center life on Christ and his kingdom confuses them and even turns them against the faith.”  Ken Hemphill and Richard Ross, Parenting With Kingdom Purpose (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 51.
[7] David Kinnaman; Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters (Kindle Location 1318 or page 123). Kindle Edition.
[8]Ibid
[9]Although Hooker and Brand are mentioning high school dropouts we must remember the genetic fallacy.  Just because someone is a high school dropout does not mean they cannot tell if someone or something is not striving to engage the classroom.  They, at least to some degree, notice this.  Learning is two ways.  Hooker and Brand write, “Big majority of high school drop outs say classes are uninteresting or irrelevant to the world beyond high school or that they felt alienated and unsupported.”Hooker, Sarah, and Betsy Brand. “College knowledge: A critical component of college and career readiness.” New Directions for Youth Development 2010, no.127(Fall 2010):75-85; Teaching needs to be more engaging as Shouping, Scheuch, and Gayles assert,” The definition of “teaching” should be re-examined and broadened to include research and creative activities so as to reflect a more contemporary and proactive perspective on the totality of our educational endeavors.”Hu, Shouping, Kathyrine Scheuch, and Joy Gayles. “The Influences of Faculty on Undergraduate Student Participation in Research and Creative Activities.” Innovative Higher Education 34, no.3 (August 2009): p.182 
[10] Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 281-283 or page 24). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.
[12] Note: They did not separate Christian from Non Christian so this is a corroborating number to the Georgetown study’s findings.

[13] Stetzer, Ed; Stanley, Richie; Hayes, Jason (2010-07-19). Lost and Found (p. 22). B&H Books.

[14] Rainer III, Sam S. (2008-09-01). Essential Church (p. 6). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[15] David Kinnaman; Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters (Kindle Locations 1327-1329 or page 123). Kindle Edition.
[16] The education system has been on the decline since the early 1980’s.  James Shaw writes, “…since 1983, when a
federal panel issued a sweeping condemnation of public elementary and high school education called A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983). Nevertheless, the problems persist. U.S. students do not score well on tests incomparison to similar-age youth of other industrialized nations; dropout rates are high; and anecdotes abound of the low skills of many high school graduates.”Shaw, John S. 2010 “Education-A Bad Public Good?.” Independent Review 15, no. 2:241-256

[18] Zogby, Joseph; Malin, Patricia. ,Survey Of College Seniors," National Association of Scholars;  26 April 2002; page 9

[19] Cole,S, & Kiss, E 2000, “What Can We Do About Student Cheating?, About Campus, 5,2, p.5, 
[21] Gross, Neil, and Solon Simmons. 2009. “The Religiosity of American College and University Professors.” Society Of Religion 70, no.2:101-129.

[22] Ibid

[23] Gary A. Tobin & Aryeh K. Weinberg. Institute for Jewish and Community Research (2007) Religious Beliefs & Behavior of College Faculty. P.80-81
[24] J. Budziszewski writes in chap 7 about college students that go to Christian college proposing, “Pastors and even parents often assume that the war against the faith is waged only in secular schools, so if our young people go to Christian colleges and universities, their life with Christ will be nourished instead of assaulted. This assumption is not merely false, but reckless. To be sure, there are some fine Christian schools. But the worst stories about antiChristian ideological assault I have heard so far come from nominally Christian colleges that have not remained faithful to their mission.” Zacharias, Ravi; Geisler, Norman L. (2010-06-23). Is Your Church Ready?: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life (Kindle Locations 1498-1502 or Chapter 7, paragraph 3). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[26] Stetzer, Ed; Stanley, Richie; Hayes, Jason (2010-07-19). Lost and Found (p. 30). B&H Books. Kindle Edition.
[27] Block, Franciosi, and Geiger cite a study in 2000 done by the  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development called “Education at a Glance” on pages 157 and 173 saying that 44 percent of high school students go on to a 4 year institution(university specifically) and 33 percent will obtain a degree.
Block, Micheal; Franciosi, Robert; Geiger, Melissa National Association of Scholars What Do College Graduates Know? A Survey of Arizona Universities page 17 2002

[28] There are great benefits to college that one study has shown can range, as George McCleallan writes, from , “…short-, medium-, and long-term benefits. Among these are better health, greater longevity and lower mortality rates, improved child health and lower infant mortality, better child education, higher rates of fertility, greater happiness, more efficient labor markets and reduced unemployment, enhanced lifelong learning, consumption benefits, and greater female participation in labor markets.” McClellan, George S. "Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education." Journal of College Student Development 51, no. 2 (2010): 232-4



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